Imagine a politically minded groovy singer-songwriter, an electric rock musician whose work is infused with her deep sense of spirituality and a Ladino chanteuse — all women, all working toward the common goal of supporting the aspirations of other Jewish, female musical talents. Throw in other songstresses and female-led groups — performers of such musical genres as reggae, punk, jazz, Sephardic, klezmer and children’s interest — and what you have is a diverse roster, worthy of its own music label.
Why is a Jewish women’s music label needed? Well, there is a plethora of professional Jewish female-led bands. But until now, there has been no significant communal infrastructure to support and nurture female musicians whose work is inspired by the unique Jewish female experience. While there are highly esteemed Jewish music labels, they are (for the most part) dominated by male managers and rosters. Many Jewish music festivals, series and communal holiday shows often only have one “token” female group on the bill. Jewish female musicians deserve a chance to play more and larger venues; moreover, audiences deserve a chance to hear them do so.
The label would hold its artists to the highest of standards, thus proving that Jewish female musicians are as commercially viable as their male counterparts. It would work with Jewish communal institutions, such as synagogues, JCCs and Hillels — as well as secular venues in different cities — to ensure that female acts are fairly represented in festivals and cultural offerings, and that our music is distributed in appropriate outlets. It would provide its artists access to quality and affordable recording studios, tour managers, promoters, and public relations and marketing professionals. Producing events, such as Jewish women’s music festivals — a “Lilith Fair” in the truest sense! — would also be part of the label’s mission. And the label’s musicians would play a key role in selecting incoming artists.
Established Jewish musicians like Naomi Less, Chana Rothman (the aforementioned electric rock musician and groovy singer-songwriter, respectively) and I (the Ladino chanteuse) have joined together to create a model we plan to replicate in the months to come. We have chosen to mesh our varied musical styles on one stage to demonstrate a new paradigm — one of inclusivity, collaboration and action — for the next generation of Jewish female artists. While we represent very different genres of Jewish music, we all acknowledge what we have in common, and the kind of support we need to reach our full potential. We believe that women can have a much stronger voice when they’re banding together, rather than working against each other.
The Jewish women’s music label would draw inspiration from Ani Defranco’s Righteous Babe Records in the secular music scene — with the goal of helping ensure that gender equity is a valued part of the Jewish music scene. Our work would likely move more Jewish women to pick up instruments and let their voices emerge in this burgeoning field.
Quality music would be at the label’s core. But with a Jewish women’s music label, the community would gain much more than just good albums. We believe that women can use their voices to create positive change in our communities. Chana, Naomi and I all work with a variety of populations, and are committed to social change as an inherent part of our musical work. It was fitting that our “Lights Ignite Change” concert — the Philadelphia-based kickoff to our collaborative effort — took place on Hanukkah: the festival that celebrates bringing light into the darkness. The event not only brought together three very different Jewish female musicians, it also rallied a wide range of communal organizations around the issue of domestic violence. Going forward, we hope to tackle other important issues.
The Jewish women’s music label would show the community how women’s voices can harmonize and inspire. With such talented Jewish women on the music scene right now, and with powerful missions, this is one roster I would want to follow.
Sarah Aroeste is a New York-based musician and leader of the Sarah Aroeste Band, a contemporary Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) music group that performs around the world.
This post is part of the series “28 Days, 28 Ideas.” Be sure to check out yesterday’s idea, “WiseGen and the Great Transition” on eJewish Philanthropy and tomorrow’s on FederationConnection, the new blog of the Jewish Federations of North America. You can also visit 28days28ideas.com for the full list of ideas as they progress.